Causes Of Lower Back Pain -- For People Who Want To Learn More, But Donít Know Where to Start
CAUSES OF BACK PAIN
Considering the fact that the majority or between 70 and 90 percent of the population will experience some sort of back pain at one time or another, knowledge about back pain relief is certainly welcome, appreciated and a popular topic. One of the best ways to begin learning about back pain relief is by understanding the basics of back pain: what causes it, how itís diagnosed, what treatments are available, how to manage the pain, etc.
Most references to back pain focus on lower back pain in the lumbar spinal region. However, back pain causes in no particular order are:
A. Accidents or injuries leaving muscle pain
B. Osteoarthritis with deteriorating cartilage
C. Osteoporosis with bone loss / fracture
E. Major conditions like cancer
Muscle, ligament and tendon problems are generally at the root of the pain problems along with some weakness in the lower back. Other body parts in the region can also be associated like bones and small joints.
When no specific cause is apparent, the term NSLBP (nonspecific low back pain) is used. Any number of reasons for this pain can include degenerative disk disease, psychological issues, systemic disease, facet syndrome (similar to pinched nerves symptoms), herniated disk, spondylolisthesis or the forward displacement of one of the lower lumbar vertebrae over the vertebra below it or on the sacrum. Other factors could be spinal stenosis or constriction or spondyloarthropathy (disease affecting spinal joints).
Letís take a look at each of these and what pain relief solutions are available.
DEGENERATIVE DISK DISEASE Ė The degeneration of vertebral disks is a natural part of the aging process. What often happens though, is that when the narrowing of the disk space combines with the nociceptors, sensory receptors that respond to pain, in the outer annulus (in the disk space outside the nucleus) or dorsal root ganglion (spinal nerves) that become heightened, the result can be pain, although not always. Sometimes pain can be felt by some people, and other times not. For example a minor accident like missing a step and landing a little harder than usual on your feet might cause back pain. And certain activities can aggravate degenerative disks, like yard work or house cleaning movements. But overall, pain associated with degenerative disk disease generally heals within a few days at most. Preventative measures like strengthening muscle groups to lessen future traumas are usually recommended along with an analgesic or medication that helps relieve pain. Only in some cases are epidurals or injections, blocks or surgery needed.
PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES - If acute back pain turns into chronic stages, factors of depression, fear and anxiety could increase discomfort and pain. And the longer the chronic pain persists, the more these factors tend to play a role, an increased role over time. So treatment strategies may need to include learning coping skills and alternative lifestyle enhancements to deal with the psychological factors present.
SYSTEMIC DISEASE Ė This disease is the cause for up to 10% of back pain and largely among the elderly. Causes could be cancer-related or related to reduced bone mass or simply the aging process. Increasing or decreasing activities as well as switching positions all may have no affect on pain relief. Alternative therapies may be in need.
FACET SYNDROME - Similar to pinched nerves symptoms, this is believed to be associated with pain in the backís side joints and the main cause of up to 20 percent of back pain cases, with buttocks and upper leg pain increasing with long-term standing, and when switching sitting / standing / lying positions. An injection of local anesthetic into the facet joint helps determine the diagnosis. However, since the anesthetic relieves the pain at the same time and is used as a short-term solution, an x-ray doesnít help with imaging the pain results. Recommended treatment includes rigorous lumbar activities and body mechanics exercises to learn proper or more beneficial posture and movement techniques.
HERNIATED DISK Ė Also known as a ruptured or protruding disk, a herniated disk extends beyond its own area into a surrounding region. Compression of the nerve root can cause pain. And pressure on the fibers in surrounding ligaments can cause pain. Although an accident involving lifting could be the cause of a herniated disk, itís not necessarily so. For many, the cause is unknown; pain can occur suddenly or gradually over time. Relief for the pain can come from walking instead of sitting or standing, and surgery is rarely required right away, if at all in the event relief from pain happens within a limited amount of time. During this time (up to several weeks) any of the following might be effective to use, depending upon your healthcare provider: medication, physical therapy or non-frequently, steroid spinal injections.
SPONDYLOLISTHESIS or the forward displacement or slippage of one of the lower lumbar vertebrae (generally the fourth or fifth) over the vertebra below it or on the sacrum. This state of health is diagnosed by x-ray. Pain is believed to occur where the displacement is, at or below the displacement, or from spinal stenosis, discussed next. Depending upon the patient, strengthening exercises or a back support may be all thatís required. In others, surgery may be an option.
SPINAL STENOSIS Ė is the constriction or narrowing of the vertebral canal. Mainly due to aging, as the gradual lessening of disk space and changes in ligaments advance upon the nerve roots below the lumbar vertebra or L2, pain can result. Itís often accompanied by numbness in the legs and is not aided any by walking. Different vertebra and varied physical activities can affect the painís location, intensity, recurring and duration. To help diagnose this condition, healthcare providers can use myelography, or an x-ray of the spinal cord after injection of air or a radiopaque substance into the subarachnoid space, with a post-CAT scan. And depending upon the patient, treatments can vary and be minor with medication if the pain gradually disappears, to epidural corticosteroid injections in the epidural, to blocks or surgery.
SPONDYLOARTHROPATHY - This term refers to a variety of diseases affecting spinal joints; arthritis variations- psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, the more common of the two and in males more often than women; and sacroiliitis, accompanies inflammatory bowels. Diagnosis consists of a physical exam, history and testing including x-rays, CAT or MRI, as the disease progresses slowly long-term fusing sacroiliac joints together and joints between vertebrae together. To relieve pain, there is treatment with exercises and physical therapy to promote better enhanced posture and mobility and some arthritic medications.
Written by Shelley Hitz, Licensed Physical Therapist and Certified NASM Personal Trainer.
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